Organic agriculture is not a new concept in the food production industry. The debate on whether to ditch conventional agriculture for organic farming has been raging for more than a decade now. Whether discussing greenhouse gases or population increase, crop production is at the forefront of these discussions. Hundreds of journals have been written about different production systems and their respective pros and cons due to human activities, and the boom in organic food production.
However, organic agriculture seems to be one of the concepts that are gaining traction in the current wake of global warming and climate change. An increase in greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developed countries is one of the major contributing factors to global warming.
The just concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference was centered on the impact of climate change in both developed and developing countries. Famine and lack of clean water are two of the main challenges affecting millions of people in developing countries such as Kenya.
Agricultural production has significantly dropped in countries that rely heavily on agriculture as a pillar of their economies. At the UN conference 2022 held in Egypt, experts and government officials discussed organic and conventional food production methods.
At the end of the conference, the delegates agreed to work together to combat the effects of climate change. More needs to be done to promote organic agricultural strategies such as crop rotations.
One of the questions that linger about organic agriculture is its ability to sustainably feed the world in 2050. Proponents of this farming method are of the idea that this is the only way to sustainably utilize the available agricultural land.
High-level scientists strongly advocate for genetically modified foods and conventional agriculture that involves the use of synthetic fertilizers and other synthetic farm inputs. According to them, organic agriculture is not sustainable as the amount of food it yields is significantly lower than conventional agriculture.
Earl Butz, the US Secretary of Agriculture, in 1971 once said, “Before we go back to organic agriculture in this country, somebody must decide which 50 million Americans we are going to let starve or go hungry.”
That statement resulted in hundreds if not thousands of journals about organic farming vs. conventional farming. Proponents of sustainable agricultural methods argue that more extensive research can resolve the low yields hurdle. They are also quick to point out the health, environmental, and social-economic benefits that organic farming offers.
What is Organic Farming?
Organic farming is an agricultural system that involves the use of planet-friendly pest controls and biological fertilizers that are created from plant and animal wastes. One of the nuances between organic farming and conventional agriculture is that the latter involves the use of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that affect the environment negatively.
For example, the chemicals sip through the soil layers to the underground water reservoirs making it unsuitable for both human and animal consumption. In addition, the harmful farm inputs result in foods that are contaminated with disease-causing elements such as free radicals.
Accumulation of free radicals in the human and animal bodies has been proven to be one of the leading causes of life-threatening diseases such as cancer. According to a journal by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL, permanent crops occupy 6.7% of the global organic agricultural land and 2.9% of the global permanent cropland.
In order to answer the question, “can organic agriculture sustainably feed the world in 2050?” we need to first review the different organic crops and livestock-rearing methods.
In ancient times, farmers practiced monoculture which limited the amount and types of foods they would produce. Thanks to advancements in technology, organic farmers are able to apply the polyculture farming concept that entails cultivating a broad range of crops simultaneously.
Polyculture is done on a large piece of land that is specially prepared to ensure it provides ample nutrients to all the crops. Rotation and planting rows of different crops that are in mutually beneficial relationships side-by-side help to increase yields. Some of the benefits of polyculture are;
- Maximum utilization of the available nutrients
- Balanced use of energy
- Increased self-reliance
- Better food security
- Spur economic growth
Like most other natural resources, soil degrades over time. After cultivating different crops for months or years, the amount of nutrients and minerals in the soil is depleted. Organic farming replenishes them through the application of organic manure and fertilizers.
Unlike synthetic chemicals, organic fertilizers and soil inputs are more effective in helping the soil to regain its health. They don’t pollute the environment, they promote environmental wellness. Concisely, organic wastes such as farm waste, animal waste, aquatic waste, and crop waste are used as fertilizers.
Biological Pest Control
Did you know that there are harmful and beneficial organisms that support organic farming efforts? For example, natural microbes help to break down organic matter into nutrients thus enhancing the fertility of the soil.
Organic farmlands are not immune to harmful organisms. It’s possible to control them using natural methods, getting rid of all of them and preventing the problem from recurring is challenging. Some of the organic farming methods used to control harmful organisms include;
- Crop rotation
- Use of physical barriers
- Natural pesticides such as Neem oil and Diatomaceous Earth
Due to the limited capability of these four methods, organic farmers have no option but to use herbicides and pesticides that don’t contain too many chemicals. Furthermore, they maintain proper sanitation to prevent pollution of surface and underground water as well as soil and air pollution.
Organic Weed Management
Weeds are unwanted plants that grow naturally in agricultural fields. They compete with the farmed crops for nutrients and water in the soil. If not controlled, they can wreak havoc on the entire farm thus reducing food production.
Organic farmers are aware of this fact and have natural formulations for effectively eliminating weeds and preventing them from growing again. Strict organic farming does not permit the killing of any plant that naturally grows in the soil and minimize environmental impacts. Instead, it recommends the use of weed management methods (no chemical fertilizers) that curtail their growth instead of eradicating the weeds completely.
Organic Livestock Farming
Organic domestic animal rearing increases the sustainability of the farm by providing much-needed organic manure. Concisely, this facet of organic produce in farming advocates for use of domestic animals such as cows, goats, and chickens to supercharge the sustainability of organic farms. Manure from these animals has been proven to be very effective in replenishing soil nutrients.
Like organic crop farming, this form of farming recommends little or no use of synthetic medicines to treat the animals. Instead, it proposes the use of non-allopathic medicines and herbal medicines such as homeopathy and ayurvedic medicine. Conventional veterinary medicines should only be used in emergency cases.
Clearly, organic farming can and will sustainably feed the world in 2050. However, more research needs to be done to improve the various national organic farming methods. Governments and non-governmental organizations should join hands to establish organic farming projects in developing countries to combat famine and other problems linked to climate change and global warming. Together, we can make the world a better place for the current and future generations in how we deal with food systems, food waste, and the consumption of animal products.